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Harvesting bears in state a numbers game

Bear hunters set a new harvest record this past season as 4,653 bruins were harvested over four separate seasons.

And I can remember back in the 1970s when bear season was cancelled because they feared there were not enough bears to permit a season. It was about that time that Dr. Gary Alt became the Game Commission biologist and drew up a program to increase the size of the black bear population. I won’t go into the details here but the program was successful beyond expectation and now, they estimate the black bear population to be at 20,000.

Bears are denned now and the cubs are born in January. So there are many dens out there replacing what was harvested last fall. If the weather is mild, as it has been for much of this winter so far, a few bears will wake from their slumber and get up roam around, taking food where they can find it. These will not be the sows with cubs, they will be young males of the year before or even older males that are denning alone.

It’s an amazing thing to think about: bears and deer eat much of the same type of food: acorns, beech nuts, corn and other grains from farmer’s fields, and when they do emerge from hibernation in the spring they eat a lot of green grass to stimulate the digestive system. Both deer and bear love fruit. The biggest difference is that deer do not raid garbage cans or dumpsters and are of course, not as strong as bears. On occasion a bear will kill and eat a fawn but their predation on deer is not great.

If you like a breakdown, 1,629 bears were taken the general bear season; 1,340 in the muzzleloader season; 1,117 in the extended firearms season and 561 taken in bear archery season. Probably the biggest factor in bear hunting success is the weather on any opening day. If it is rainy or storm, windy and wild, the harvest will be smaller than usual since bears simply aren’t moving about as much in such weather.

Most black bears will be sleepy and inactive until sometime in April. That’s about the same time that we too get rid of our winter blues. Bears are fond of approaching turkey calls in the spring so I’m always on the lookout for that. A young turkey might make a fine breakfast I suppose but never do I want to call in a mother bear with a couple cubs in tow.

Well, we got another change in the rules this early winter. It was recently passed that landowners now have the option of using purple paint on trees to mark property lines and warn away hunters and trespassers. So now, instead of nailing up yellow no trespassing signs on trees the landowner can march around with a can or two of purple spray paint and have at it.

The old signs did deteriorate with the weather and were often torn down by irritated hunters or even used as targets for random shooting. If they couldn’t hunt on the land, I guess they felt better if the shot holes in the signs.

Of course, there are rules for the painting of purple spots on trees.

Vertical purple lines must be at least 8 inches long and 1 inch wide. The bottom of the mark must not be less than 3 feet or more than 5 feet from the ground. And painted marks must not be more than 100 feet apart.

Now that the “purple paint law” is effective, hunters should know they might encounter purple markings.

The new law also authorizes unarmed persons to go onto private property for the sole purpose of retrieving a hunting dog.

In Pennsylvania, defiant trespass is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines. And if trespassing occurs while hunting, additional game-law violations — and additional penalties — also might apply.

A recent legislative act has provided the Game Commission the authority to investigate trespassing complaints and enforce trespassing violations as a primary offense, even if game-law violations aren’t alleged and the agency will enforce trespassing aggressively.

So the new norm will be farmers and private landowners armed with spray cans and rulers to make sure the paint spots are properly spaced. They also must be applied above any growing brush so they can be easily spotted by people. It will probably mean some trimming of brush every so often to be sure the paint spot is visible. The summer sun will fade the paint spots so fresh applications will need to be made often. If you volunteer to do this chore for the landowner, he just might give you permission to hunt. Worth a try.

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